One of the big successes of science has been the steady eradication of diseases that once ravaged so many people across the world. So it is frustrating when some diseases are making a comeback because of the misinformation spread by opponents of vaccinations. The latest example of this backsliding is that four European countries (Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK) that once had been declared measles-free have had that status revoked by the World Health Organization because of new outbreaks.
“We are backsliding, we are on the wrong track,” said Kate O’Brien of the WHO’s Immunization Department.
Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness that causes coughing, rashes and fever.
The disease can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine, which is available for free for all young children in the UK.
Countries are declared measles-free when there is no endemic transmission for 12 months in a specific geographic area.
Ms O’Brien said all four European nations that have lost their eradication status have “extremely high” vaccination coverage.
“This is the alarm bell that is ringing around the world: being able to achieve high national coverage is not enough, it has to be achieved in every community, and every family for every child,” she said.
Health experts warn that lies about the measles vaccine have allowed the illness to spread in certain areas or communities.
Combating the false information that spreads through social media is hard. It is not enough to just debunk the myths about vaccinations. People are influenced by stories and one story by one parent claiming a negative personal experience can be very influential in persuading other parents. To combat it, one must also put forward alternative, positive stories about the benefits of vaccination, such as a parent describing what actually happened to a child who was not vaccinated.